Having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall in each of the past 23 consecutive years, Michelin, the Official Tire of IMSA since 2019, traditionally sets the bar in endurance racing.
For Michelin one of the best parts of the Daytona experience is hearing the initial impressions of Michelin performance, especially from those either experiencing the Michelin Pilot Sport GT race tires for the first time or renewing their Michelin relationships after a several-year absence.
In addition to a deep and powerful field of IMSA regulars, NASCAR stars entered for the Rolex 24 At Daytona include seven-time Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson, 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott and 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon.
IndyCar and/or Indianapolis 500 champions in the field include Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Sebastien Bourdais.
Robert Kubica and Kevin Magnussen arrive at Daytona from Formula 1 along with international champions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, DTM, and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Although Jimmie Johnson and his Action Express Racing Cadillac teammate Chase Elliott are among those who will be experiencing Michelin Pilot IMSA race tires for the first time, fans may be surprised to learn that Johnson has some history with Michelin.
In younger days, Jimmie and his parents lived in San Diego and frequently attended off-road desert races. His dad, Gary (pictured above), worked with Jackson, the sales and on-site support group for Michelin and its highly regarded BFGoodrich tires brand.
As young Jimmie and his friends fearlessly hid, played tag, and ran through the BFGoodrich tire mounting compound, the engineers cautioned them to be careful lest they trip, or fall under the heavy mounted tire and wheel assemblies which weigh more than 120 pounds each.
Gary Johnson advised the tire fitters and engineers, “If you see him running around here, you bust him.”
Sure enough, a bit later Jimmie and his friends returned. As they ran through the tire area, a BFG engineer snagged Jimmie. “Hey, Jimmie, let’s take a little timeout,” he said.
With a nod from Gary, he suspended Jimmie from his toes, briefly hanging him upside down in a stack of unmounted race tires.
In later years, the Johnson family’s BFGoodrich connection took a different turn. With NASCAR limiting testing by not making race tires available to teams, a certain NASCAR team contacted Michelin, which was racing BFGoodrich tires in the American Speed Association Series.
An arrangement was made to buy some BFGoodrich race tires for the NASCAR team’s oval track testing, conducted at non-Cup Series tracks with BFG tires adjusted to simulate the increased tire wear.
Not long after scoring his first NASCAR Cup series wins in 2002, Jimmie and his teammate Jeff Gordon were invited to drive in the Michelin-sponsored Race of Champions (ROC) in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain.
There they competed against the likes of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Loeb, Marcus Gronholm, Cristiano da Matta, Nick Heidfeld, and Kenny Brack in both a Nations Cup and individual events.
Johnson and Gordon teamed with Colin Edwards to capture the Nations Cup at the Race of Champions, driving various Rally cars and an ROC buggy all fitted with Michelin tires. In later years, Johnson also competed in the ROC events in Paris and London.
In preparation for this month’s IMSA events, Michelin and Jackson have shipped nearly 18,000 tires to Daytona International Speedway.
It is reasonably certain that Jimmie Johnson will not be hanging by his toes inside any of those tire stacks.